By CJ Moore
Yvonne Cerrano, manager of a National Self Storage facility in El Paso, Texas, greets every customer who walks through her door in English. But in El Paso, where approximately 80 percent of the population is Hispanic, many of her customers respond in Spanish and often ask if she speaks the language. As soon as I say yes, they feel comfortable and know I can help them, Cerrano says.
Census data shows Hispanics make up the fastest-growing population in the United States, particularly in states bordering Mexico. The 2008 census reports 36.5 percent of the Texas population is Hispanic, 36.6 percent in California, 30.1 percent in Arizona and 44.9 percent in New Mexico.
The challenge for many self-storage operators in the southern states is how to appeal to this ever-increasing population. Many have turned to bilingual managers like Cerrano, who help maintain their customer base by developing trust. But retaining customers is usually not the biggest challengeits bringing in new customers. One way to do this is through targeted online marketing.
The Online Language Barrier
The medium most people use these days to find out about goods and services is the Internet, and statistics show that Hispanics turn to the Internet even more so than the general public. According to a study by AOL Advertising and Cheskin in 2009, Hispanics are more enthusiastic about the benefits of the Internet than the general public, so much so that they have more confidence in online product ratings (72 percent) than the opinions of their friends (28 percent). The study also found that 57 percent of Hispanics always go to the Internet to find deals, compared to 41 percent of the general public.
Tracy Taylor, president of Watson & Taylor Self Storage, says many Hispanic customers are finding out about his self-storage facilities online, but are not always comfortable about completing the transaction on the Web. Taylor has facilities in Georgia, Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. He has at least a 5 percent Hispanic customer base in every city, but he pays more attention to his Hispanic customers in Texas, where the numbers are much greater.
Hispanic Self-Storage Customers in Texas
Watson & Taylor Self Storage determined the ethnicities of its customers in each city where it own facilities. The chart shows the percentage of Hispanic customers in Texas.
Taylor is able to track his leads, and sells through a third-party search engine where he advertises his facilities. Hes found that although the online traffic is similar in most cities, Watson & Taylor completes far fewer online deals in cities with a high Hispanic population.
In Austin, for example, Taylor says he gets a high number of online commitments; El Paso sees similar online traffic, but the online commitments are much lower. Very commonly, on more than two-thirds of the search-engines actions, the Hispanic customer will come to the facility and view the unit, talk to the manager, then decide if he trusts him. The communication factor helps tremendously, says Taylor, who makes it a priority to hire bilingual managers in his southern stores. Thats a very significant change from the way we do business in other areas.
Herman Lopez, a manager at Rhino Self Storage in El Paso, says many Hispanics in his area dont have the ability to complete a transaction online. There have been many times where Ive been on the phone talking to a Spanish-speaking person, and we get all the way to the reservation, and when you ask for the deposit, he says, Oh, well, I dont have a credit card, Lopez says. If they dont reserve online, its because theyre cash-paying customers.
Building Trust Online
Another big reason Hispanic customers might not be making deals online comes back to the trust factor. Many Hispanics hesitate to finalize their business online because of communication hurdles, says Carla Briceno, cofounder of Bixal, a company that provides strategic communications and marketing for organizations targeting the online Hispanic market. Most websites are not bilingual, and those that are typically use machine-generated translations.
Machine translation is not good enough yet, Briceno says. Even a professional literal translation of your original general market materials is usually not effective. A better approach, she says, is to identify your audience, take steps to understand their unique needs, interests and demographics, and develop original content. At the very minimum you should create Web pages that speak to your audience in a cultural and linguistically appropriate way.
The AOL study found many Hispanics even prefer English content because they mistrust sites in Spanish. The study also found Hispanics prefer Spanish marketing tailored to them and written for themnot just a literal translationbecause it makes them feel closer to home.
By doing your research upfront to understand the perceptions of the members of the specific segment youre trying to reach, you can develop an online presence, Briceno says. Whether it be on your website or on some of the key social-media platforms, the message should be culturally relevant and focused on providing the information the growing online Hispanic audience is looking for.
There are several ways self-storage operators can improve their websites and online marketing campaigns to entice more Hispanic tenants.
Write clearly. Rather than translating your English marketing material and ads, find someone whos fluent in Spanish to compose materials intentionally for the Hispanic market. Some phrases and words simply do not translate well from one language to another.
Create trust. Getting the attention of Hispanic customers online is the first step. Once they visit your store, its important they feel comfortable. Have someone available who can speak to them in their language and make them at ease.
Be phone-friendly. Build Internet pages that are mobile-device friendly. Many Hispanics connect online from their mobile phones.
Embrace social media. More Hispanics are using social media, Briceno says. This offers brands the opportunity to listen to whats being said about their products or their competitors and engage in two-way conversations that can help them shine a light on their brands.
Talk about facility features. List security benefits on your website. Many Hispanics are uneasy about security. They also want to know about other facility features such as tenant insurance.
To gauge your facilitys effectiveness in reaching and serving the Hispanic community, Briceno also suggests you ask current Hispanic tenants:
- How do they perceive your products and services?
- How are they using them?
- What are their typical needs in this area?
- What are their language preferences?
- How are they using the Internet and social media?
- What factors play a role in how they might use your products and services?
The important thing to remember is trust is the most essential aspect of working with Hispanic customers. Before starting Bixar, Briceno worked for Sprint Nextel, managing projects for the Hispanic e-commerce site. She found that there were so many poorly translated websites that many Hispanics had lost trust in all sites.
If that trust is lost, its tough to regain. But if the trust is strong from the beginningwith your first impression happening onlinethen you could have a customer for life.
C.J. Moore is the editor of StorageFront.com, an independent self-storage search engine and marketing company based in Kansas City. StorageFront works with more than 40,000 self-storage facilities nationwide. The website also caters to the Hispanic market with manually translated Spanish pages. For more information, call 913.469.5700; visit www.storagefront.com .